Published Sep 13, 2022
Boldly Bringing Lower Decks to Comics: An Interview with Ryan North
Pick up Star Trek: Lower Decks #1 at your local comic shop this week!
By Ensigns Avery Kaplan and Rebecca Oliver Kaplan
On Star Trek: Lower Decks, currently streaming its third season, the crew of the U.S.S. Cerritos rarely gets the opportunity to go where no one has gone before, given the nature of Second Contact missions. But thanks to New York Times-bestselling and Eisner Award-winning writer Ryan North (How to Take Over the World, Danger and Other Unknown Risks), our favorite Lower Deckers will soon be heading somewhere they have yet to visit — the panels of the upcoming Lower Decks comic book adaptation!
The first entry in the monthly three-issue miniseries, STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS #1, from publisher IDW will be arriving at your local comic shop this September 14, and will feature interior art by Chris Fenoglio (Goosebumps). To mark its release, our interview with North reveals tantalizing hints about what’s in store when the Cerritos warps into your LCS this week. Not only that, our friends over at IDW also provided us with interior pages from STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS #1 (below) to check out after the interview.
StarTrek.com: We understand you have seen every episode of Star Trek (except one). Can you tell us about your history with Trek? Do you have a single favorite episode? How about a favorite Trek captain?
Ryan North: Haha, I should have been ready for the "Who is your favorite captain?" question! But I've gotta go with Picard. He's someone who is thoughtful and empathic and just, but also very creative. I have a friend who told me that when she was a little girl, her dad would pause Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes at their climax, and ask her what she thought Picard should do in this situation. It honestly sounds like such a cool way to figure out ethics and your own humanity.
There was a long time in my life where I wondered why anyone would want to watch or read anything other than science fiction, because then you could know what the future would be like. I kind of thought that everything in Star Trek was researched and thoughtful and a sincere best effort at showing tomorrow. Of course, now as an adult, I understand the restrictions under which these things are made, and the time crunches, not to mention moments when you just want to tell a story and not be constrained by other restrictions like that. You invent transporters because there are really efficient storytelling technique to get your characters around, not because you studied matter to energy translation. But as a kid I didn't know that, and didn't care! I just wanted to know what life in the 23rd and 24th Centuries was like.
And yes, I've watched every episode of Star Trek except one, and the one that I haven't watched is a secret I will take to my grave.
StarTrek.com: According to Lower Decks creator Mike McMahan, you two discussed comic scripts. What was this collaborative process like? Did he give you any notes that you found particularly surprising or insightful?
Ryan North: Oh, it was great. We'd have calls just shooting back and forth different possibilities, and then I'd go off and think about them more and flesh them out.
It's funny — one of the first ideas I had I got super excited about and wrote this 10-page document about what the story could be, and sent it off to Mike. He called me the next day and said, "This is amazing, but we can't use any of it, because you just plotted out a lot of what's happening in Star Trek: Picard Season 3."
So, uh, that's how I accidentally spoiled myself on Picard Season 3.
StarTrek.com: McMahan also mentioned that the comics “get to do fun stuff we can’t on the show.” Can you give us a hint about what this might allude to? Can you give us any hints about particular Easter eggs for which we should keep our eyes peeled?
Ryan North: One thing he told me early on was that, for whatever reason, it was pretty complicated to show characters and other elements from the previous shows on Lower Decks, but I wasn't under those restrictions, and he'd hoped I'd take advantage of it. So there is a sequence in the first issue where I get to go a little hog wild on that.
I did, for instance, ensure that my favorite starship class, the Ambassador class of the Enterprise-C, was absolutely included. I got to invent a ship and name it, and given my CS background, I am excited for people to meet the U.S.S. Lovelace.
StarTrek.com: Was there any concept, character, or plot point that you wanted to include but couldn’t (due to canonical or any other reason)?
Ryan North: Haha yep, that whole storyline I mentioned that I worked out! But, at least, I'll get to see how someone else does it in live action. And it's not the first time that's happened to me, even this year!
There was another tie-in to a movie being made, and I pitched a book, and they said, "We love this, but we can't use it, because you have just pitched us the entire plot of our top secret movie.”
Attention Hollywood: I am good at writing your movies, apparently. Let's talk.
StarTrek.com: What was it like writing the Lower Deckers? How about the command crew? Did any character pose a particular challenge for you? Can we expect to see any new characters in the Lower Decks comics? How about any returning fan favorites (from Lower Decks or elsewhere)? Will we see more T’Lyn?
Ryan North: It was actually surprisingly difficult! I thought it would be easy because I know these characters and this world inside and out, but that ended up making it tricky. I would think of something, and then realize, "Oh I can't do that, because there's four seconds of footage from 1969 that contradicts it." The depth of knowledge ended up being an unexpected stumbling block in my own head.
But that was only in terms of plotting. For the character voices themselves, the personalities and idiosyncrasies of all the Lower Deckers (and Upper Deckers) are so distinct, and so fun, that it was like slipping into a favorite sweater. Everything came really nicely and easily.
And Mike and I chose a stardate for the episode (I mean, comic) that fits nicely with the show, so everything can be canon, but unfortunately, it's before we meet T'Lyn. Next time!
StarTrek.com: There is a strong current of anti-fascist ideology in your work. How does Lower Decks (and if applicable, the Trek universe in general) fit into this theme?
Ryan North: Ah, thank you! I think when viewed from that lens, there's not any friction at all. Star Trek has always been a very progressive story, and very progressive universe — one that embraces infinite diversity in infinite combinations. There's not a lot of room for fascism there.
The story we're doing in this miniseries actually has more to do with colonialism than fascism, but that's only if you want to get into the deep themes. It's also got holodeck shenanigans and Dracula!
StarTrek.com: If you were in Starfleet, what role do you think you would fill?
Ryan North: I'd be one of the scientists for sure. Or, perhaps even better, I'd be one of the civilians who spends all his time running new holodeck stories for people. I really enjoyed how Lower Decks has shown more of the holodeck programming, and there are scenes that suggest you can set up a program with a brief description and a few lines of dialogue, much like how GTP-3 and other text generation algorithms like it work today. So maybe I'd be a computer scientist that works on building those algorithms for interactive holographic program design.
That actually sounds like a whole lot of fun!
StarTrek.com: Is there any chance that we will see more unseen starship locations like the Rubber Ducky Room in the comic?
Ryan North: You know, these three issues have 30 pages each, and I thought, "Wow, compared to the 20 page issues I normally do, these are absolutely spacious! I'll be able to fit everything I want!" But I couldn't. Even in space, there's not enough space. Sadly, I had to cut my 10-page action sequence around the giant Rubber Ducky Room.
StarTrek.com: Do the Lower Decks comics take place in between seasons or episodes, or do they have another specific relation to the episodes of the animated series? Was there an attempt to put a unique personal spin on the comic, or is it a close match for the perspective of the show?
Ryan North: Thanks to the wonder of stardates, they take place at particular times during the show. It's actually more important for a Lower Decks comic than it would be for other shows! The characters on Lower Decks grow and evolve and change and better themselves so much, more so than in any other Star Trek, which means you've got to nail down when your story is taking place because it won't fit just anywhere.
I wanted the book to, as much as possible, feel exactly like the show — just translated into another medium. But I did ask Mike if he wanted the little secret messages hidden at the bottom of the page like we did on Squirrel Girl and Adventure Time, and I believe his response was "HELL YEAH." So in that way, there's a little Ryan North trademark there, and everyone gets some bonus jokes for their comic buying dollar! My gift to you.
StarTrek.com: All Trek places an emphasis on diversity and inclusion. Can you tell us about how the Lower Decks comic continues this tradition?
Ryan North: Yeah, it does! I don't want to spoil too much about how those themes work into the book, because they're kind of central to the story we're telling. It's one of the things I like a lot about the Lower Decks show — we're getting to see people who don't yet have all their crap together. They're not the more perfect people we see on the bridge of flagships; they're people who are still figuring themselves out, Mariner especially. But they're all trying to do better, and they all respect each other for their differences.
StarTrek.com: What meal would you order from the Cali class replicators?
Ryan North: Are we talking a fully unlocked one, like the bridge crew get to use? In that case, I'm going for some delicious bone marrow. But if it's the more limited one for the lower decks, I'll stick with the classic standby of banana, hot.
StarTrek.com: Is there anything else you like us to include?
Ryan North: Just that the book is going to rule and if you got any interest in Star Trek, even if you haven't seen Lower Decks, I think it'll really appeal to you. And the art that Chris Fenoglio is doing on the book is incredible. It looks so sweet, and he's going the extra mile on basically every panel.